Right Turns and Cyclists: Who Has the Right of Way in Surrey?

When the weather improves we will see more bicycles on the roadways. As the days get warmer and longer, cycling is an efficient, environmentally friendly and healthy alternative to the regular commute.

Vancouver and Surrey BC lawyers hear of many cycling accidents each year. For both cyclists and drivers, sharing the road can be challenging when the lanes are narrow and a cyclist is moving at a slower speed than the automotive traffic. Many drivers are often confused and caught off-guard when a bike appears in the side mirror. Who has the right of way when a cyclist proceeds straight through an intersection while a driver attempts to turn right?

Safety is the Primary Concern

Safety must always be the primary concern by both the car driver and the cyclist. Traffic is often stop-and-go in larger cities and in many situations cyclists will often approach or pass from behind cars to navigate traffic. Cyclists, taking advantage of their smaller frame, will also at times travel between a stopped car and the curb.

Drivers must be especially cautious when making right turns. Regardless of the presence of a bike lane, they must signal and check over their right shoulder to make sure that there isn’t a cyclist traveling straight when they intend to turn their car right. The practice of a right shoulder check is not always a common practice for drivers and failure to do so can have serious and sometimes catastrophic results.

Like drivers, cyclists must be prepared for the unexpected. Cyclists must remain vigilant and attentive while riding to watch for vehicles slowing suddenly to avoid bumps, potholes or crossing animals. In order to remain safe on the road, both cyclists and drivers must be able to read and address sudden dangers to keep everyone safe.

Who is At-Fault?

Unfortunately, accidents between drivers turning right and cyclist proceeding straight through an intersection are increasingly common. It is not always clear who is at-fault.

Passing on the Right

In Ormiston v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2014 BCCA 276, the British Columbia Court of Appeal addressed this issue. Here, the plaintiff cyclist was proceeding down a hill on a country road when he saw a van’s brake lights come on in front of him and it slowed down. The driver of the van was never identified, so that accident was insured as a hit and run.

The plaintiff slowed when he saw the braking van, but not as much as the van did. The plaintiff wasn’t sure what the van was doing so he decided to accelerate and pass the van on the right. As he approached the van, the van suddenly moved to the right. To avoid colliding with the van, the cyclist moved further to the right onto the shoulder, causing him to fall down the rocky embankment to the right of the road and sustain serious injuries. The plaintiff initially won 70 percent in his favour, but Insurance Corporation British Columbia (ICBC) appealed, contending that there was no legal basis on the evidence for the driver of the vehicle to be held liable for negligence.

The Court of Appeal held that cyclists have the same rights and duties as other drivers on the road according to s. 183(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act, R.S.B.C., 1996, c.318 (the “MVA”). There was no reason to believe the driver of the van knew or ought to have known that a vehicle would pass on its right as there is a statutory prohibition against passing on the right, according to s.158 of the MVA, which the cyclist was in breach of. The cyclist was found 100 percent responsible for the accident.

Sudden Stops Due to a Vehicle Turning Right

In Rudman v. Hollander, 2005 BCSC 1342, liability was at issue where the defendant vehicle turned right in front of a cyclist. The plaintiff was injured when he went over the handlebars of his bicycle after braking hard to avoid colliding with the defendant’s vehicle during the unexpected turn.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia considered whether the evidence shows the defendant’s move to turn right amounted to an abrupt and unsafe stop in front of the plaintiff or whether the plaintiff cyclist was following too closely or attempting to illegally pass the driver on the right. The court decided the evidence showed the circumstances of this collision were more akin to the cyclist following too closely and so he was found 100 percent liable. The cyclist claimed he was travelling at about 10 kph when he applied his brakes in a panic stop, about 12 feet from the defendant, while there was no evidence that the driver applied his brakes abruptly.

However, it is clear from the decision that a driver could be found wholly or partially liable for a collision if he or she turns right abruptly, fails to signal, fails to check the blind spot, or brakes suddenly.

Cyclists should still exercise caution, particularly at intersections where the vast majority of collisions involving cyclists occur.

Contact us at Taylor & Blair LLP for a Personal Injury Lawyer in Vancouver or Surrey

Determining liability in right-turn cyclist collisions can be very technical and the outcome will depend on the facts of the case. It is important to contact a knowledgeable and trusted personal injury attorney in Vancouver if you or a loved one is injured in a cycling, pedestrian or car accident. A Vancouver or Surrey BC lawyer at our firm will provide you with a free initial consultation. Contact us at 604-737-6900.